Travel

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around the world

I'm not going to tell you what to do on your vacation but you can use my photos and posts as your inspiration. Or not. Whatever. 

Scroll down to check out all the travel articles below or click Search By City for a specific place to explore.

 

Toronto like a #tourist

 
 

Take on the city...

If you can't figure out what to do, Airbnb's got your back. Their new platform, called Trips, launched last year – but only came to Toronto in March. 

Discover experiences in #thesix, like sake tasting in the Distillery District or taking a heritage hike if you're looking for something more active.

Or make a robot? Yep, that's a thing you can do with the co-founder of Zeroth Robotics.

If you're planning on travelling to any of the following places outside of Toronto, check out some suggestions from Airbnb:

Amsterdam, Athens, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beirut, Berlin, Boston, Buenos Aires, Buffalo (NY), Cape Town, Cartagena, Chicago, Detroit, Dubai, Dublin, Florence, Harlem, Havana, Ho Chi Minh City, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Moscow, Nairobi, Nashville, New Delhi, New Orleans, Oahu, Osaka, Paris, Portland, Prague, Provence, Queenstown, Reykjavik, Rio De Janeiro, Rome, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo,Vancouver.

 
 

Havana, Cuba: Habla un poco de español 

I spent a week in Havana. I recommend befriending someone who can show you around. In my case, it was a taxi driver, who ended up being a great guide. He took my boyfriend and I to Revolution Square, then to one of the oldest trees in Havana (**Grandmother Willow vibes**) and to Hemingway's Cuban #casa. The people were hilarious, honest and generous with their rum. Other than spending $300 on some fake-ass #Cohibas, my boyfriend and I had the best time. I'd recommend going in October, when it's not too hot and it only rains for about 20 minutes at a time, if at all. Be warned: There are no beaches immediately near Havana, so it's not that kind of vacation. But I much preferred wandering the streets of Habana Vieja, checking out the caves in Viñales, visiting rum and tobacco factories in Pinar Del Rio, and browsing the vintage books at the Plaza de Armas. There were also some hidden gems around Havana: a home converted into a small museum dedicated to Victor Hugo, the tastiest pina colada at the Parque Almendares, and dancing on stage with other audience members after watching the Cabaret Tropicana.

 
The streets of Old Havana: Walk around with a mix of tourists and locals, who hang out on doorsteps, play cards, enjoy some drinks or conversation. Make sure you have a meeting point or landmark you can recognize, because the narrow streets can become a maze. (This might only apply to me, because I have a lack of direction.) Locals are happy to help, though, so don't be worried about asking. 

The streets of Old Havana: Walk around with a mix of tourists and locals, who hang out on doorsteps, play cards, enjoy some drinks or conversation. Make sure you have a meeting point or landmark you can recognize, because the narrow streets can become a maze. (This might only apply to me, because I have a lack of direction.) Locals are happy to help, though, so don't be worried about asking. 

Old Havana

Vintage books at the Plaza de Armas

Vintage books at the Plaza de Armas

Haggle for it

When I saw a four volume, leather-bound set of Les Misérable sitting on the shelf, I knew I wanted them for my book collection. But, because I hate confrontation, I was reluctant to haggle. The vendor wanted to sell them for around 60CUC. My boyfriend looked at me and said, "Walk away." I put them back on the shelf and the second I started leaving, the vendor said, "Ok, Ok, Ok." Then we got it down to 35CUC. So, I guess, if someone forces you, haggling is worth it? 

The view inside the Museo del Ciudad, across from the Plaza de Armas

The view inside the Museo del Ciudad, across from the Plaza de Armas

looking is free, right?

Instead of paying to go inside, enjoy walking around the Museo de la Ciudad, and visiting the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a mid-sixteenth century fort. There's also an archeological museum, the governors palace (Palacio de los Capitanes Generales), and a cathedral nearby.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza, taken on a disposable camera.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza, taken on a disposable camera.

 

Holy Hemingway: Everything Ernest

After visiting Hemingway's Cuban casa, known as Finca Vigia, it's obvious why he loved writing here. Apparently Old Man and the Sea was based on a nearby fishing village, Cojimar. We tried to go there as well but we were told the bridge "was down" and wouldn't be up and running for several days. This meant getting to Cojimar would take a couple hours to see "not much," according to the man who worked at the front desk of our hotel. He was from there, he said, and there was really nothing more than a restaurant and a small port. I still wanted to go, but he advised me not to. Instead, we visited Hemingway's house, about a 45-minute drive from Havana.

The windows to the home are left open so guests can peek inside, look at his impressive book collection and admire his typewriters. No one is allowed to go inside. If it rains, the windows are closed so be sure you don't make the trip if it's really raining. There's a small entrance fee as well. A local band was playing on the property so you can grab a drink and listen to music after you walk around. 

When you get back to Havana, check out Dos Hermanos, one of Hemingway's favourite spots to grab a mojito. Enjoy a drink and listen to live music. There are pictures of Hemingway with the captain of his boat, called Pilar.

Dos Hermanos, taken on a disposable camera. 

Dos Hermanos, taken on a disposable camera. 

 

Art and about

The art scene in Havana is #thriving. There are paintings for sale on the streets and at a marketplace inside a warehouse along the water near the train station. 1. My boyfriend and I went to Fusterlandia, a group of homes covered in tiles by local artists, named after Jose Fuster. They sell original artwork from a gallery in the main house. 2. We then went to the Parque Almendares, with vibrant green vines that draped down from above and the giant, twisted trees, with roots the size of fire hoses falling from branches in every direction. There is a tiny structure near the main giant tree (you'll know what I mean). If there's someone there, ask for a pina colada. Not joking. It was the best one I had the entire time. Made with milk and cinnamon. And served without alcohol. You drink a bit of it and then pour in as much rum as you want for your drink. My taxi driver, my boyfriend and I all enjoyed one after taking pictures in front of the tree. 3. The Colon Cemetery (or the Cementerio de Cristobal Colon) is one of the must beautiful cemeteries I've ever seen. It was built in the 1800s and is one of the biggest in Latin America. It's yuuuuuuuge. Seriously. It's 140 acres. So I don't recommend walking all of it. You have to pay a small fee near the entrance and then you can wander the grounds. 4. The Callejon de Hamel is a street dedicated to African artwork and culture in Cuba. They displayed paintings, sculptures, poetry outside. 

Photos from top to bottom:

Row 1: Fusterlandia

Row 2: Parque Almendares

Row 3: Colon Cemetary

Row 4: Callejon de Hamel

 

Taking a tour: Rum, tobacco and #views

My boyfriend and I decided to take a day trip to Viñales and the outskirts of Pinar del Rio (the capital of the eponymous province) so we could become immersed in #culture. #eager 

We went to a rum factory, a tobacco farm, the Indian Caves, and a mountainside mural (Mural de la Prehistoria).

 

Around Havana in photos

And last but not least, check out all of the pictures I took with my disposable camera.

 

How to sniff out a fake cigar

  • Check the labels: Are they stuck on seamlessly and perfectly? Is there visible glue holding the label on? If there is the slightest imperfection, the cigar would not have been deemed OK to sell. 
  • Check the spelling: It might look like the cigar company's logo, but check closely. Does the letter "O" in "Cohiba" have a slight mark over it? Fakes will have minute changes to the original spelling. Some letters may be altered. 
  • Learn more here because I'm no expert!
Fake cigars on the table in an apartment in Havana

Fake cigars on the table in an apartment in Havana

 

FOOD:

  • There were more food options than I thought there would be. Lots of pork and chicken and rice and beans. But there were Italian, Chinese and other types of restaurants as well. If you're walking along the Malecon (the oceanside roadway), stop at the historic Hotel Nacional. They have an outdoor restaurant and peacocks roaming the grounds. But less than a 10 minute walk away, there's the Cafe Laurent. It was the best meal I had the entire trip. We ordered fish, risotto, and other dishes, and enjoyed the view.
  • Try Cuba's version of Coco Cola, called tuKola. It wasn't as sweet, but it was flavourful.
  • Be sure to pack snacks, like energy bars, nuts, or anything else you might want. There are snacks available but they might not have specific ones (although I was surprised to see Snickers at some shops.)
  • You can buy big bottles of water at convenient stores. Stock up on your first day.
 

MONEY:

  • Cubans have two currencies: One used by tourists, called the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC (pronounced "Kook"), and another currency used by locals, the Cuban peso or CUP. 
  • All banks charge the same amount for exchanging money, so there's no need to shop around for the best rates.
  • Most hotels will also be able to exchange money, or you can do this at the airport. (But if you get in late at night, exchanging at the airport may not be an option.)
  • American money was not widely accepted when I was there in October 2016. 
 

STAY:

  • I stayed at the Melia Habana and bought a package deal that included a room for 6 nights and my flight. The hotel was clean, had a large pool, friendly staff, and breakfast was included. There was also a free shuttle that went from the hotel to Old Havana. They offered a ride to and from the airport, too.
  • Airbnb is also a great option, but be sure you have access to Internet. (Wifi is not widely accessible.) And I would also want a place with air conditioning (but hey, that's just me!) Also, if you don't have access to shuttles or other transportation, opt to stay in an area that's easy to get around, because it's hard to get a cab or public transportation in more remote areas. 

Note:

Even with Wifi, the internet was slow and it took a while to load maps and reply to emails. I recommend actually *printing* out maps of the neighbourhood you're staying in, and other places you'll be while you're there. If you have a copy, you can use that to plan how to get around, instead of waiting for your phone to load. Also, if you get lost and your phone doesn't work, you'll have that copy. *Stay alert. Stay safe.*

Road trip: LA to SanFran

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I went on a road trip with my best friend and...

we're still best friends. So needless to say the trip went well! We had lots of laughs, lots of singing in the car, lots of ups and downs (literally, driving through the streets of San Francisco), and saw all the nature: seals, whales, and dolphins. Yes. Dolphins. (In the wild -- not at some depressing and horrible Marine Land...)

Anyways here's the route my bestie and I took and a list of what we did and where we stayed from LA to SanFran.

*NOTE* Highway 1 is closed south of Big Sur after a bridge collapse, so you can't take the route below. But you can still be inspired by it and plan your trip for next year? Or go around? More info here.

 
 

Los Angeles: Everyone thinks they're #famous

Here are some places to go in and around LA that were tourist-y but actually worth it:

  • Griffith Observatory
  • Chinese Theatre
  • Venice Beach
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • The Laugh Factory
  • Rodeo Drive (Look, but don't touch)

And as every I Love You, Man fan knows, James Beach is the place where they filmed the scene in the movie where Paul Rudd and Jason Segel eat tacos with their hands...and...THEY WERE THE TITS. 

Fish tacos from James Beach (tortillas not photographed)

Fish tacos from James Beach (tortillas not photographed)

Pictured below:

Row 1: The Griffith Observatory

Row 2: Chinese Theatre; Mural in Venice 

Row 3: Mural in Venice; James Beach

Row 4: Murals in Venice

Row 5: Bubba Gumps; Santa Monica Pier

Stay in LA:

I spent three nights at The Sixty, a trendy and comfortable boutique hotel with helpful staff, a rooftop pool and bar, and walking distance from shops and restaurants in the Beverly Hills area.

 

Leaving LA: Santa Barbara and a 60s icon

We took the scenic route out of LA to Santa Barbara in the morning. Santa Barbara has tons of places to buy vintage books and second-hand clothes (furs, denim, and quirky wigs). I ended up buying a pair of children's books that were printed in the 1950s, like Robin Hood and Pinocchio.

We got lunch to go in the late afternoon and headed to the Oak Hill Cemetery in Ballard to see Edie Sedgwick's grave. (My friend loves Edie and the stop was on the way to our first stop on the road.) There are also other famous people buried there, like actor John Forsythe. Don't ask me where Edie's grave was, though. It took us a while to find. We had to decipher the details of this YouTube video, which ended up being helpful. 

Edie Sedgwick's grave at the Oak Hill Cemetary. (She took the surname of her husband Michael Post).

Edie Sedgwick's grave at the Oak Hill Cemetary. (She took the surname of her husband Michael Post).

On the road at sunset

On the road at sunset

Solvang:
Are we in Denmark?

This cute little town called Solvang was on the way from Oak Hill Cemetery to Pismo Beach. All of the buildings are modelled after a Danish village. There are windmills, beer halls, and they have tons of wine tasting options. We got there at night so we walked around. Defintiely worth seeing.

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Night 1: Pismo Beach
Small-town vibes & neon signs 

We checked into our hotel room around 8 p.m., dropped our bags off and drove to the main street, about 5 minutes away, to get some dinner at a local diner, the Cool Cat Cafe. The pictures below show what the Pismo Beach pier looks like during the day. And then what it looked like when we walked around town at night, with neon signs lit up everywhere. Pismo Beach was quiet, but the people were welcoming. It has a small-town vibe with surf shops, candy stores, and vintage cars parked along the main street. It was a great place to stop on our way to Big Sur.

Stay in Pismo Beach:

The Best Western Plus Shore Cliff Hotel was clean and comfortable and had a beautiful #oceanview for two.

 

On the way to Big Sur: Hearst Castle & lotsa seals

We left the chill #vibes of Pismo Beach for the luxurious and sprawling Hearst Castle. I could have spent days wandering around. The grounds were bought by George Hearst, a self-made millionaire, in 1865 and inherited by his son William Randolph Hearst in 1919. For decades, William, who became a media mogul, worked with architect Julia Morgan to design the Hearst Castle. By 1947, the dream became a reality, boasting 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens. 

I went during the off season so there wasn't a huge line, but we did have to wait for a bus to take us from the entrance to the castle. It's about a 10-minute drive up a winding, narrow road that overlooks the property. And then all the way at the top, the ginormous estate with elaborate ceilings and watch towers and statues and palm trees. There is also an extensive art, newspaper, and book collection. (The library was my favourite part, with literally *ALL THE CLASSICS*)

Below: Photos of the Hearst Castle

 

Will stop for seals

As we were leaving the castle we noticed people were stopping along the highway at an oceanside parking lot. There was a fenced off beach and people were just staring...at SEALS. Seeing them waddle around and then take a dip in the ocean was amazing. #SealTourofAmerica

 

Do go chasing waterfalls

On our way to our Big Sur destination, we stopped to take pics of the McWay Waterfall. It's right off of the main highway and can easily be seen from there. You can get closer by following a path to a bridge. (You can pull over all the way to the side of the highway but there is no parking.) We got there just as the sun was setting so it made for some great pictures, although we did end up leaving when it was really fucking dark out.

 

Nigh 2: Big Sur
Did we see a bobcat?

As we left the waterfall, it was pitch black outside. Our GPS stopped working but we knew there was only one way to get to our next stop for the night: Fernwood Resort. As we approached in the darkness, we screamed in horror as the headlights of the car focused on a bloody, dead deer near the entrance. #roadkill We were totally calm after that...There was someone at the Fernwood entrance when we arrived and she gave us a key to open our cabin door. As we drove into the camp grounds, I swear I saw the back of a bobcat sneak off into the woods: the bushy tail and back paws. My friend swears she saw it, too. I guess we'll never know. #realbobcatsighting

Anyways, the cabin was equipped with a heater (necessary in November when it's cold at night) and two lamps, as well as a bed that was already made. (You don't have to bring your own sheets.) We dropped our stuff off and hit the road again for a late night dinner at Nepenthe, which is probably the best meal I had on the entire trip. The restaurant has fire places all around and a dim-lit, cozy atmosphere. There is also a gift shop at the bottom with locally made soaps, candles, and photos of Big Sur.

NOTE: Nepenthe and other places south of highway 1 in Big Sur are closed due to the road collapse.

Stay in Big Sur:

We stayed in a "tent cabin" at Fernwood Resort but they have camping options as well.

The tent cabin at Fernwood Resort

The tent cabin at Fernwood Resort

 

Monterey for the day: whale watching tour of America

We woke up early the next day to drive to Monterey so we could go whale watching. We ended up seeing whales splashing around but my favourite part was seeing a pod of dolphins swim by. We took the Chris's Fishing and Whale Watching tour. The guides were informative and friendly, but make sure you get a seat. Otherwise you're standing for a long time.

 

Night 3: San Francisco
We go to prison and see the Full House house

On the road again

On the road again

We got in to San Francisco late at night. It was actually beautiful to see the lights sparkling in the distance as we took the highway. But then we started driving in San Francisco...and that was a fucking nightmare. We went to In-n-Out Burger for our first meal and obviously it didn't disappoint. 

Some places we checked out while we were in SanFran:

  • Sausalito: Near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Great restaurants and people watching. Stunning homes and views of San Francisco
  • Chinatown: Worth seeing. I was a bit scared because I'm clumsy so walking into the stores with delicate tchochkes, but it was almost like a city within itself. We went as it was closing so it wasn't as busy. 
  • Mission District: Kind of grungy but cool area with great stores and cool restaurants and coffee shops. It's like the Queen Street West of San Fran with a bit of an edge.

You'll notice there is no photo of a home used in the opening of Full House, one of my favourite shows growing up. That is because it looked nothing like what it used to look like and wasn't worth the trek. However, we did get to experience a SanFran trolley. So getting there was cool. But if you have to squeeze other activities in, I'd recommend leaving out the Full House house. It's just a house, people.

Stay in San Francisco:

We stayed at the Baldwin Hotel. It was in a great location, near Union Square and Chinatown, but not too close. There was a Starbucks nearby and tons of restaurant options. The parking lot was not located at the hotel, but it is a 5-minute walk to a nearby garage.

Sausalito

Sausalito

 

Alcatraz

We took the ferry across the bay to check out Alcatraz, the prison known for holding notorious gangsters like Al Capone and Machine-Gun Kelly. We also got to see the untouched cell of two prisoners who escaped by slowly scraping a hole through the wall with spoons. There are lots of ferry times available to and from the prison, and different tours available. 

Below: Photos of Alcatraz

 

Last thoughts:

This may sound obvious but leave early to drop your car at the airport before your flight home. There was a long line of other people dropping off cars when we got there. And I'm pretty sure we took the wrong exit and had to loop around. 

I went on this trip in November, so it was a bit cooler. 

Be sure to check the latest updates on Highway 1 in Big Sur before planning a trip

Greece
All about the islands

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The islands are where it's at...

I got a chance to travel to Greece with one of my best friends who I grew up with in Toronto. Disclaimer: If you get seasick on boats then this may not be the trip for you. I went in May, so it wasn't too hot and the weather was amazing. However, the waves were huge and there were a couple times we had to dodge people who were puking into tiny barf bags. The longest boat ride we took was around two hours, and there are tons of options for times in the schedule, so if you can stomach it, ferries are a great way to get to each island!

 

Athens

I flew into Athens and spent the day there, and then started our #IslandTour. First, I met my friend at the airport in the morning and we stored our bags in a locker there so we could grab them on our way to the ferry later in the afternoon.

Our cab driver drove us all around Athens and this is what we had time to see:

  • The Acropolis (where The Pantheon and other ancient buildings are)

  • The Ancient Agora

  • Syntagma Square (where the parliament building #soldiersonduty) 

 
 

Andros
Gyros & cemetaries

We hopped on a ferry from the Rafina Port after grabbing our luggage from the airport. When we got to Andros, our ride to the hotel in a rickety cab along a mountainside and it took an hour to get to Andros town (which is the capital of the island -- also called Andros. I know, confusing.). We were second-guessing our choice to stay an hour away from the port on the other side of the island. But it was SO worth it.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and grabbed a gyro for dinner nearby. The hotel tucked away from the main street, just a three minute walk to restaurants, an outdoor movie theatre, and shops. It was a very quiet and clean and was a great way to ease our way into Greek island life. 

Stay in Andros:

The attic room at the Micra Anglia Hotel (cozy boutique hotel, very comfortable for two, friendly and helpful service) 

We took a walk to the beach near the hotel and climbed up the side of the mountain. The beach was empty and we had it all to ourselves.

We took a walk to the beach near the hotel and climbed up the side of the mountain. The beach was empty and we had it all to ourselves.

My first gyro in Andros. *Yes I want fries with that*

My first gyro in Andros. *Yes I want fries with that*

The attic room at the Micra Anglia Hotel

The attic room at the Micra Anglia Hotel

Andros town at night on the main street

Andros town at night on the main street

Overlooking Mesa Kastro, the remnants of an ancient castle, from the Nautical Museum

Overlooking Mesa Kastro, the remnants of an ancient castle, from the Nautical Museum

One of my favourite parts of wandering around Andros was the cemetery with a view of the city and beautiful sculptures. I almost forgot it was a cemetery because of all the greenery and flowers.

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Mykonos
What if I'm not into fist-bumping and house music?

Don't get me wrong, Mykonos was beautiful. But we ended up cutting our stay short because we weren't in love with the non-stop-drunkenness of annoying frat bro types and leathery old men lying on the beach in the nude. We got into Mykonos late at night and took a cab to the Ornos Beach area. We were going to stay at a place called Eleni's Studio, but when we got there, the door had been left unlocked and there was thick hair in the bath tub. It wasn't a hotel so there was no one around to help sort out the situation. So we opted to leave and take another cab to Paradise Beach Resort, basically on the other side of the island - about a 15 to 20 minute drive from Mykonos town. It had a party-all-night atmosphere with music blasting until around 11 p.m. And then the party people headed to the club nearby. 

We got the last room, so we didn't have much choice. It was small with two single beds and seemed more like a hostel. But it was clean. They offer other room types as well (so think about booking in advance if you're going at a popular time). We left our bags and went to the nearby restaurant, CheckPoint, that had everything from hummus and dip, to calamari, fish, and pizza. They also offered wifi and had a chill #vibe. We often sat there when trying to come up with travel plans or plans for the day.

During our stay in Mykonos, we went to:

  • Mykonos Town
  • Little Venice
  • Ornos Beach
  • Tropicana Beach

Stay in Mykonos:

Paradise Beach Resort (decent room, more like a hostel, but directly next to the beach)

 

Paros
Paro-paro-Paradise

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By far the best beaches: they were untouched and the water was warm and crystal clear. The town was laid-back and there were tons of good food options. We rented a go-cart-type vehicle and drove around the island in an hour. It broke down near a surfing school so we stopped to call the rental place. They came and fixed it and we were off again. But the next day we decided to nix the go-kart when it wouldn't start again. Other than driving around, we check out some local churches and shops.

To the right: A fishing village called Naousa we discovered during our drive.

The go-kart

The go-kart

The beach by the hotel in Paros 

The beach by the hotel in Paros 

Stay in Paros:

Apollon Boutique Hotel (trendy boutique hotel, 10 minute walk from main square)

 

Crete
Is this where Hercules is from?

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We left Paros to go to Chania, Crete. (The spelling varies: Xania, Hania...) It is a *stunning* coastal town. We were only there for one night so we walked the Old Venetian Harbour and the lighthouse guarding the city. We ate along the water and signed up for glass-bottom boat tour - but it was windy and the waves were too rough. So we decided instead to hop on a bus and head to Heraklion.

Stay in Chania:

Artemi's Rooms (family-run place right near shops and restaurants)

 

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Next we took a bus to Heraklion, the capital of Crete. We visited the Lions Square (also called Eleftheriou Venizelou Square) and ate some gyros obviously. We wandered around the main streets at night and went to a market. There were tons of people out, playing soccer or getting ice cream or hanging out on church steps. 

Stay in Heraklion:

Atrion Hotel (clean and comfortable, right near main square)

 

Santorini
Romantic sunsets & volcanoes

Santorini, famous for its sunsets, did not disappoint. We enjoyed dinners on rooftops overlooking the ocean and walked the winding, narrow streets browsing jewelry, leather goods, and different kinds of olive oil. We took the cable car down to the Old Port but you can also opt to take a bumpy ride down on some donkeys. We decided to go on a volcano tour, where you can swim in hot springs that smell like eggs (because of the sulphur in the water). Warning: Don't wear a white bathing suit unless you want it to turn orange! The volcano tour is worth it for the views of Santorini. Other than that, we wandered around, explored, went to the beaches, and enjoyed the food.

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Taking a cable car down to the Old Port

Taking a cable car down to the Old Port

View from the cable car

View from the cable car

The volcano tour boat

The volcano tour boat

View of Santorini from volcano 

View of Santorini from volcano 

During our stay in Santorini, we often took a 20-minute bus ride into the town. We didn't make it all the way up to Oia but we did see tons of sunsets from rooftops in the main town. It was nice to stay further from touristy area, although it was sometimes frustrating to have to go back and forth between the main town and Perissa, which is the area the hotel we stayed at was in.

Stay in Santorini:

Amelie Hotel (Beautiful rooms with pool near a black sand beach in Perissa)

Notes:

I was able to exchange all the money I needed at the airport, but obviously you can do this beforehand.

I found that knowing a couple words in Greek went a long way because not that many people spoke English. ("Pou" means "Where" which is something I was asking a lot. Also "Pos eisai" is "How are you?" and "Yassou" is an informal way of saying "Hello")

Bring your own sunscreen or anything else you might normally buy when you arrive at your destination. Because most of the islands are touristy, sunscreen and similar items are expensive.

Check the ferry schedule often. There can be sudden changes due to weather. Bring Gravol if you get seasick.

The Holy Land
ISRAEL

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TEL AVIV AND JERUSALEM

I travelled to Israel in May and stayed in the Herzliya-Pituah area, near Tel Aviv, for 10 days. It was the perfect time temperature-wise for me, because it wasn't  brutally hot during the day. (I still wore sunscreen with 60 SPF). While I was there, I visited Jerusalem, floated in the Dead Sea, and ate a stupid amount of shawarma and hummus. And of course, hit up some shuks (aka markets with fresh food and tons of tchachkes) and my Israeli grandmother haggled with every vendor and argue with the tour guide when we went to Jerusalem. It was amazing to watch and very entertaining. 

FOOD

The food in Israel is definitely the best part. Fresh fish, pitas, falafel, Jerusalem bagels, spices, fruit – and the best breakfasts. (I don't even like breakfast but really I can't complain about the brekkie in Tel Aviv. They had chocolate babka).

Here's some of what I ate while I was in Tel Aviv, Herzliya-Pituah, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. 

Chicken shawarma from a restaurant at De Shalit Square in Herzliya.

Chicken shawarma from a restaurant at De Shalit Square in Herzliya.

Yitzhak Hagadol is a restaurant in Jaffa with tons of food for sharing and nonstop salads and tiny dishes being served.

Yitzhak Hagadol is a restaurant in Jaffa with tons of food for sharing and nonstop salads and tiny dishes being served.

A popular dessert in Israel: Malabi with rose water (This one was from a restaurant at the Herzliya Marina).

A popular dessert in Israel: Malabi with rose water (This one was from a restaurant at the Herzliya Marina).

Fish with lemon at White Pergola right by the Tel Aviv port. 

Fish with lemon at White Pergola right by the Tel Aviv port. 

Schnitzel and fries at the Ritz Herzliya

Schnitzel and fries at the Ritz Herzliya

A loquat, a small fruit  

A loquat, a small fruit  

Dried fruit at the Shuk Carmel in Tel Aviv

Dried fruit at the Shuk Carmel in Tel Aviv

Candy at the Shuk Carmel

Candy at the Shuk Carmel

Dessert at the shuk

Dessert at the shuk

Challah at the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem

Challah at the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem

Spices being sold at a shop near the Western Wall

Spices being sold at a shop near the Western Wall

Vendor selling bread in Jerusalem

Vendor selling bread in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM & AROUND

I took a day trip to see the Western Wall, Mount Olives (and the spectacular views), the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and went to the Machane Yehuda Market. 

Directly below: photos of the Jewish Quarter

 

Western Wall

On the women's side

On the women's side

 

The market & out and about in Jerusalem

 

Sad camel at a gas station and restaurant stop on the way to the Dead Sea

Sad camel at a gas station and restaurant stop on the way to the Dead Sea

Herzliya-Pituah & Around

Herzliya Marina

Herzliya Marina

Beach by the Herzliya Marina

Beach by the Herzliya Marina

 

KEEP IN MIND:

  • It gets cold at night, even in May. I only packed one thin sweater and I wore it every day. Israelis were wearing North Face jackets, seriously. It wasn't THAT cold, but still chilly after the sun set.
  • Bring sunscreen. Sounds obvious. But it's better to have it (and maybe some aloe gel if you burn like me) instead of running to buy it when you get there.
  • To get around, there are lots of taxis in the big cities. But if you don't speak Hebrew they will likely try to get you to pay a lot more so ask your hotel or a local how much a taxi should cost before you get in. (I learned this the hard way with my boyfriend when we paid 120 shekels for a ride worth 75.)
  • You can exchange money at your destination if you don't want to do it at the airport. I exchanged American dollars to shekels at the Arena Mall near my hotel in Herzliya.
  • Haggle at the shuk. "The price is never the price"
  • Try learning some Hebrew before you go. Shalom!

Experiencing Auschwitz two ways

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Going to Auschwitz...

was a sobering experience. I was seventeen.

It was hard to grasp the weight of the situation or make sense of the immense loss of life, the suitcases left behind in piles, caps pulled out of teeth, glasses twisted and broken...These objects are on display at Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, things that belonged to prisoners – Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and others – and were taken from them.

A photo I took while visiting Auschwitz with my school a decade ago. This photo is of one of the barracks.

A photo I took while visiting Auschwitz with my school a decade ago. This photo is of one of the barracks.

I can't understand what this place meant for 1.1 million Jews who walked through the archways with Arbeit Macht Frei written along the top. But I can understand the things they left behind. Suitcases. Shoes. Glasses. Plates. Bowls. All material things that represent hundreds of thousands of people. Things that used to belong to them before they were condemned to death, or life among the dead.

These are the infamous train tracks at Auschwitz. 

These are the infamous train tracks at Auschwitz. 

These objects hold the key to understanding, to being able to comprehend the amount of loss. It's impossible to know every atrocity that happened at Auschwitz, but the objects have become symbols that speak silently for the victims. And in observing them, we are reminded of what happened and we are closer to understanding. It's easy to dismiss a number. (Who can really imagine 1.1 million people?) But it's impossible to dismiss the hundreds of suitcases, the shoes, the glasses...

It is in this way that The Evidence Room, a new exhibit being featured at the ROM, is so powerful.

Show, Don't Tell

When you walk into Auschwitz, you are reminded of death. The place is sullen; the barracks are dark and daunting. It's organized like a military base and there is a sense of order despite the eeriness. (The initial main camp was made up of prewar Polish barracks in 1940.) An aerial view shows how meticulous the planning was, how the place encouraged death. In 1941, a second addition was being built, called Auschwitz II or Birkenau, which is why the camp is often referred to as Auschwitz-Birkenau. This second addition became the largest part of the camp and by 1944, it held around 90,000 people. It was also the deadliest part of the camp, where the majority were murdered.

When you walk into The Evidence Room, you are reminded of death in a different way. There is no overpowering darkness. Instead, the room is all-white. The facts are presented in the purest way possible. There is a full scale model of Auschwitz-Birkenau and one of the crematoriums. Then, there are models of various parts of the camp: a gas chamber door, a gas column, a gas-tight hatch. There are also blueprints, newspaper articles and other documents that prove Auschwitz was intended to be used as a death camp. 

The architects and experts who made the exhibit used plaster, which hardens after being poured into a cast, to create the objects in the display. The team, from the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo, chose plaster because of its ability to absorb details. They even used it to recreate the documents, also in all white.

Every crack is visible on the surface of the objects on display. Every dent. Every nuance. The details are overwhelming: the size of the gas chamber door, the metal cages to prevent people from clawing their way out, the locks used to keep people inside. 

Look, and touch

The exhibit, and Auschwitz for that matter, are tangible experiences. When you are at Auschwitz, you can connect to it by touching the brick buildings and you can run your fingers along the claw marks on the wall of a gas chamber. And you can feel the ache in the pit of your stomach when you come closer to these details and closer to understanding what happened there.

When you are at the exhibit, you are forced to focus on the details, too. You can reach out and touch the gas chamber door. You can run your fingers along the blueprints that show signatures of architects who signed off on Auschwitz' deadly blueprints.

But, unlike at Auschwitz, where you can hear birds chirp and the shuffle of footprints, The Evidence Room is quiet. There is a hushed silence that triggers a sort of thoughtfulness that comes over each and every person who enters the room. 

The objects, which alone are just plaster casts, come together to symbolize the overwhelming evidence that Auschwitz was meant to be a death camp. And the exhibit uses these symbols to help us understand what happened there...certainly so we never, ever forget and certainly so the reason for so many deaths can never be denied.

Below: Photos from The Evidence Room exhibit, open until January 2018 at the Royal Ontario Museum.

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Donald McKay discusses the making of The Evidence Room during a ROM Speaks lecture.

Donald McKay discusses the making of The Evidence Room during a ROM Speaks lecture.

Dr. Anne Bordeleau talks about her primary responsibility for the making of The Evidence Room, which was to help create the plaster casts.

Dr. Anne Bordeleau talks about her primary responsibility for the making of The Evidence Room, which was to help create the plaster casts.

La Romana, Dominica Republic

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There's more to this island Than beaches...

I visited La Romana with a friend and we stayed in Casa de Campo (which has gained a lot of attention due to a certain couple who has a house there, ahem Jay Z and Beyonce.) Anyways, we stayed with my friend's grandmother so don't get any ideas. Her nana partied harder than us. 

I do have to say the beaches were beautiful and the weather was perfect (we went in February), but my favourite part was walking around the marina and the cobblestone streets of Altos de Chavon. There were art galleries showcasing local talent and vendors at the side of the road. The pictures of a pool are from the Casa de Campo resort, where we went for a day. We also visited the stables, also on the property. 

La Romana is where the red point is...

La Romana is where the red point is...

Casa de Campo Marina

Check out the boats, the people and even grab a couple things at the grocery store while you're there. Eat at Limoncello, the most delicious Italian food and my friend's all-time favourite restauarant in the DR.

Altos de Chavon

This area is a pedestrian paradise with no cars and all cobblestone streets. The stone structures are beautiful and give so much character to the surroundings. Altos de Chavon is a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village designed by a Dominican architect. There's a church, ampitheatre and many handcrafted gifts being sold by local vendors and artists.

The pool and the beach in Casa de Campo

Just to prove I actually went.

The stables

Should you go?

Short answer: definitely yes! If you can ball out hardcore for 5 days to a week, I HIGHLY recommend visiting La Romana and Casa de Campo. There's lots to do, great restaurants, museums, and areas to explore if you're not into lying on the beach every second.

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Killarney Provincial Park

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I went camping...

and I lived to tell the tale. I probably wouldn't rely on myself for any camping advice other than: Go to Killarney. You won't be disappointed. Despite a bit of rainy weather, the water was crystal clear and the mountains were beautiful. 

Killarney is a far drive from Toronto, so we broke up the drive by staying in Parry Sound the night before. We opted for a not-so-luxurious situation at a hotel off the highway and enjoyed some dinner at a place called Don Cherry's -- which, you guessed it, was dedicated to the iconic hockey commentator. 

Anyways, we stayed on George Lake but there are tons of other options. Be sure to book WAY in advanced and be sure to get a parking permit to part at the drop-off zone if you're driving.

Some advice you never asked for:

  • Check the weather (duh) and pack a rain jacket in case
  • Bring at least TWO tarps (this seems obvious, but I guess to my friends and I...it was not)
  • A pillow is your best friend after a long day
  • Don't forget to bring a (quick-dry) towel!

Here are some pics of where we were and what we ate: